Giving Sci-Fi Characters Futuristic Names

Names are my favorite kind of worldbuilding. Of course, when crafting a character, all the pieces matter. Think language, geography, social attitudes, rank and hierarchy, and origin. The thing is, a well-chosen name can convey a lot of these in one stroke. In my opinion, the more you can communicate at once, the better. No one likes infodumps.

By looking at the names of my characters, you can infer some of the assumptions I tend to make about my sci-fi settings:

  1. The future will be more globalized, full names that mix-and-match languages will be more common.
  2. Names that are easy to pronounce and write in many languages will be more common. Surnames will become homogenized at a slower rate than first names. This post is about given names.
  3. Most of these examples are traditionally male or female. Since I play around with names and gender in my story, the scope of this post will not be enough to cover all the examples. Again, that will be influenced by the story itself – how far into the future, how social attitudes have changed, and so on. It’s worth mentioning that sci-fi has been an important platform for discussing gender, and I expect that will remain the case.

All these examples in this post are taken from existing names. New, inventive names are a certainty, but I won’t go into that here. Those innovations will be reflective of whatever society they are part of. Names like Adam and Tomás are already familiar to many languages. Over time they could form new variants like Adham or Tomish. I can’t possibly account for all the variations!

Below is a list of names I could see myself using in a sci-fi story. Or at least, lists of names that provide inspiration.

Names that are recognizable in English and other languages are Jian, Ken, Poul, Yuri, Haron, Amos, Ram, Deniz or Maks. Han Solo could be another universe’s John Smith. You also have Alma, Kira, Danica, Anita, Lin, Jun(e), Nina, and Tamara. I avoid Naomi because it’s a cliché name for a multicultural character, especially if they are part Japanese.

Some unisex names are:

  • Adilet (Kyrgyz)
  • Amahle (Zulu)
  • Aruna (Telugu/Kannada/Malayalam/Tamil/Hindi)
  • Businge (Kiga)
  • Chan (Khmer)
  • Chao (Chinese) not actually unisex, but the way it is written in English would make it ambiguous to an English language reader – that’s true of a lot of Chinese names
  • Chioma (Igbo)
  • Dechen (Tibetan)
  • Fiore (Italian)
  • Hai (Chinese) an actually unisex Chinese name?
  • Hikari (Japanese)
  • Kadek (Indonesian)
  • Nalani (Hawaiian)
  • Tasi (Chamorro)
  • Voski (Armenian)

Bear in mind I don’t know how distributed these names are across genders. For example, most sources will list Ashley as a unisex name, but English speakers will recognize it as feminine in modern usage.

Arabic-flavored names are a good resource because so many countries speak (or have cultural ties to) Arabic. Names in many other languages have drawn from Arabic. Yasin, Hadi, Burhan, Zimri, Musa, Rahman, Nasim, Ahmad, Butrus, Faris, Hassan, Ghulam, Iman, Murad, Haris, Alim, and Mirza are all names that come from (or overlap with) Arabic names.

Yasin, Hadi, Burhan, Zimri, Musa, Rahman, Nasim, Ahmad, Butrus, Faris, Hassan, Ghulam, Iman, Murad, Haris, Alim, and Mirza are all names that come from (or overlap with) Arabic names.

For many Arabic names, there is already broad familiarity in the Western world given the prevalence of Biblical names. Some examples are: 

  • Da’ud (David) 
  • Hanaa (Hannah)
  • Jibril (Gabriel) 
  • Maryam (Miriam/Mary)
  • Danyal (Daniel)
  • Sara (Sarah) 
  • Yusuf (Joseph) 
  • Ibrahim (Abraham) 
  • Ishak (Isaac)

Chinese names would be more common. (Firefly failed in this regard.) I sincerely hope the craze for Chinese-to-English names dies down and people get used to “foreign” names instead. Names that are friendly to Chinese transcription would also be more popular.

My personal favorite are Turkish names. They have the right familiarity/exoticism to sound futuristic to English speakers. Just looking at the meanings of the names makes me think of a futuristic world. 

  • Soner (last man)
  • Esen (wind)
  • Derya (ocean)
  • Iskender (Alexander)
  • Orhan (great khan)
  • Vural (strike)
  • Hazan (autumn)
  • Rasim (planner, architect)
  • Serkan (leader + blood)
  • Ozan (bard)
  • Nuray (bright moon)
  • Boran (thunderstorm)
  • Emre (friend)
  • Sidika (truth)
  • Devrım (revolution)
  • Evren (cosmos)

If any of these are incorrect, please let me know.

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